New Hartford Home Dedicated As Official UGRR Station
Utica, NY (WIBX) - Over the weekend the Oneida County Historical Society in partnership with the Oneida County Freedom Trail Commission, held a research presentation that uncovered that a home in New Hartford was an official stop on The Underground Railroad. Mary Hayes Gordon, Assistant Director of the Young Scholars Program at Utica College, is the home owner of the historical landmark who undertook the research and led the presentation. She said, “As a historian it gives me a base for continued research, and as a homeowner it increases my pride in where I live.”
Gordon found that Richard Wills, an African American man living in the area during the early 1800s, bought land from the founder of New Hartford, Jedediah Sanger, and established a farm and build the home. She says the Wills were one of the founding families of New Hartford. Richard Wills, upon his death, bequeath the property to his nephew, Charles Henry Wills, who became an active member of the Abolitionist Movement. “When we think of the settlement of this area, we very often layer over the history of the minority or the indigenous people, and what we’re doing here, by finding Richard and talking about Richard and his nephew Charles, is peeling back those layers and seeing what was actually happening,” she said.
Former President of the local chapter of the NAACP, Faye Short, says the presentation at the Oneida County Historical Society was inspirational. “This is concrete stuff,” she said. Short goes on to say, “It was really interesting for me to see a picture of Charles, and to know that he was a business man, his uncle was a man of property, you know, that’s very interesting because I think a lot of times people think of us as, slavery is our beginning and end, you know, that you didn’t own anything, that you didn’t do anything and this dispels that.” Short says as the country marks Black History Month her message to young African Americans is that they take an interest in their own background and to work hard to get an education.
Gordon says the discovery of this significant history represents that many people with different backgrounds were part of building our community since its inception in the late 1700s. Gordon, who is also a graduate student taking part in UC’s Liberal Studies program, is currently working to publish her official research on the history of her home. To learn more about one of the official stations on The Underground Railroad, contact Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Gordon is also available for speaking engagements at area schools and organizations interested in learning about the Wills family and their contribution to the Abolitionist Movement.